Wineskins Archive

December 20, 2013

This Easter Will Be Like the First One (Jan-Feb 1998)

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by Rubel Shelly
January – February, 1998

30What a weekend it had been for these people. It had been a time of suspense and uncertainty, terror and flight, dashed hopes and despair. Yet Sunday morning had finally come, and little could they know of the difference this day would make.

The Setting

Judas Iscariot had been there Thursday afternoon at sundown. When the disciples had made arrangements to eat the Passover in an upper room in Jerusalem, he was reclining at the table along with the rest of them. Jesus was acting as host and had just finished washing their feet (John 13:17).

Puzzling as that must have been to the group, jesus then resumed his place at the table and said, “I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill the scripture: ‘He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me'” (John 13:18). John, the beloved disciple who was reclined directly beside and to the right of Jesus, lets us know that the Lord was “troubled in spirit” at that point in the evening. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me” (John 13:21).

Prompted by Peter to do so, John leaned back against Jesus’ chest and asked, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus responded, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish” (John 13:26a). Breaking bread and sharing it from hand to hand was a sign of friendship. it often represented a gesture of reconciliation and an offer of forgiveness. Jesus made that overture to Judas with the cryptic remark: “What you are about to do, do quickly” (John 13:27b).

It is as if he were challenging Judas to make up his mind. “Either accept my friendship, be reconciled, and take forgiveness – or reject my offer and carry out your plan to betray me.” Judas made his choice and went out into the night of his lostness.

Simon Peter had been there on Thursday night, too. He was in the upper room. He had finally consented to let Jesus wash his feet. he had shared in the bread and cup that were distributed after Judas’ departure. He accompanied his Lord to Gethsemane, where he was asked to share in prayer with him. He had dozed off – only to be brought fully awake by the arrival of a band of temple soldiers who arrested Jesus and led him away.

He followed at what he hoped would be a safe distance in order to see what would become of the one he had earlier confessed as “the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” He must have been frightened. he was so afraid for himself that he tried to lose himself in the high priest’s large courtyard. he must have stood with his head bowed, hoping that no one would spot him as a disciple of the Galilean. But he was not so fortunate. Not once, not twice, but three times, someone spotted him.

A voice said, “You are one of the Nazarene’s band.” Each time he denied it. The third time, he became positively profane in his fear. “He began to call down curses on himself, and he swore to them ‘I don’t know this man you’re talking about’ ” (Mark 14:71). Just at that moment, Peter was yanked back to reality: “Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: ‘Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times’ ” (Mark 14:72a).

We understand fear, don’t we? Even now few of us like to be singled out at work or in a crowd of strangers. If the group is drinking too much and making a scene, if your friends are telling smutty stories, if all of you are using vulgar language – is there anything you fear more than someone saying, “Hey, a ‘good church member’ like you probably feels out of place here”? Have you ever gone into a routine designed to prove that you belong, that it’s all right for you to be in that rotten place and crowd? After hearing the rooster crow, Peter was overcome with anguish and “broke down and wept” (Mark 14:72b). But he was still too scared to take back his denials.

Peter’s fear kept him at a distance through the whole proceeding. He never identified himself as a disciple. He did not step forward to be with Jesus. After the death of Jesus on Friday, his fears continued to dominate him. He continued to keep his distance, with all these events swirling in his head. He didn’t know how to feel about Jesus now. He didn’t know how to feel about himself after what he had done. And he must have wondered how Jesus felt about him now.

Jesus’ mother, Mary, did not figure in the events of the meal, betrayal, or trial. But she was there on Friday when her son died on a Roman cross. When she and Joseph carried Jesus to the Jerusalem temple when the baby was only forty days old, an old man named Simeon had told her: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2:35). It isn’t that I believe the words necessarily came back to Mary that day, but what happened was surely their fulfillment.

If Judas was apostate and Peter cringing in fear on that awful crucifixion Friday, Mary must have been awash in confusion. The angel had told her this was the Son of God. He was to save his people from their sins. Yet her son was hanging now on a Roman cross. He had been mocked, spit at, beaten, and paraded through the streets of Jerusalem. How could this be God’s plan to save the world? How could so horrible an event be turned to salvation?

“When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Dear woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother’ ” (John 19:26-27a). She heard him say the words, yet she must have been focusing not on the words but the sight before her. There was so much blood. Along with the slaying of so many lambs at Passover, here was her own son’s life ebbing away with every drop of blood that came from his body.

The Event

Three characters representing three different relationships: Judas, the disciple who had turned his back and rejected Jesus’ friendship; Peter, the disciple frozen by his fear and denounced by his own conscience; and Mary, the confused and helpless mother of the Nazarene. One event turned the tables for all of them. One event changed everything, forever.

God raised him up! The promise of Jesus that he would be in the belly of the earth as Jonah had been in the belly of a great fish – only to be liberated from the power holding him, as Jonah had been – was fulfilled. The tomb was empty. Death’s Friday afternoon victory had become Sunday morning’s triumph of life.

The whole course of the world changed because of that one event. And the lives and fates of the three people whose participation we have traced in that weekend were stood on their heads.

The Result

On Friday, Judas was hailed by the Establishment for his betrayal of Jesus. He had stood with the powerful and was on the winning side in the contest between Jesus and the religionists. In the meanwhile, his despair over what he had done drove him to suicide. He had no share in the victory of Sunday morning, for he had hanged himself (cf. Acts 1:15ff). His Friday apostasy made unalterable by his self-inflicted death made it impossible for him to share in the eternal life Sunday brought.

Had Peter done anything less serious that Judas? If people are justified before God only for their flawless obedience, neither of the two had any hope. On Sunday morning, however, frightened Peter was still wrestling with his fears when word came of an empty tomb. He struck out running, was the first actually to enter the tomb, and “saw and believed” (John 20:8). Fear became hope. The Lord later appeared to him, reinstated him to his ministry, and henceforth used him as a mighty evangelist. Knowing that Jesus still loved and wanted him to be part of his ministry let him move forward with his life after so humiliating a failure.

Mary, the distraught and bewildered mother, was among the women who arrived at the tomb around sunrise, found the tomb empty, and bore the initial witness to the resurrection from the dead. She was henceforth with the apostles in prayer until the Pentecost event of the arrival of the Holy Spirit and the establishment of the church (Acts 1:14).


Jesus arose from the dead on a morning just like this Easter Sunday will be. All around are people like the ones there that first morning.

There are people who have given up on Jesus because he didn’t live up to your misguided expectations. There are some who have failed Jesus because of your fear and who feel terrible about what you did. There are others who are simply confused because life has dealt you blows that you can neither understand nor justify.

The one event that changes it all is the resurrection. If you have given up on Jesus, you have given up on all that means anything. If your fear or confusion have paralyzed you, the living Christ takes you and gives you the direction and power to move ahead.

Your life can have fresh meaning because he is alive today – alive forever.Wineskins Magazine

Rubel Shelly

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